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Letting the Sun Shine In: How Open Data Furthers Open Government

March 21, 2014

By Maria Raviele
Evaluation Officer, IMLS

This week marks Sunshine Week, celebrating the importance of both open government and open information.  At IMLS, we believe that open government and transparency are essential to ensuring the success of the agency’s mission.

One of the most important ways that we can promote transparency and accountability is by publicly releasing our administrative grant data. This data helps show exactly how tax dollars are being spent to improve libraries and museums, and ultimately, contribute to the public good. As such, IMLS recently released administrative data of awarded discretionary grants for the years 1996 to 2013. This data release continues the agency’s participation in President Obama’s open government initiative. It also adheres to IMLS’ own policies related to open government and open data.

Transparency and accountability are key components of open government and open information policies. Releasing administrative data provides greater transparency to the IMLS grant-making process; it’s a record of who and what IMLS has funded. By administrative data, we mean data that is drawn from administrative or business records. It is primarily collected for internal use, but when used to analyze trends, it becomes a powerful tool to look at change over time. In the case of IMLS, our administrative data revolves mainly around the grant process.

There is an increasing interest in providing access to administrative data for statistical purposes.  Data provided in machine-readable formats help researchers and other interested parties access the information more easily. Administrative data can be used to identify where IMLS funds are awarded, the types of projects that are funded, and the institutions and researchers receiving funding. IMLS is joining the ranks of other agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for Humanities, in releasing comprehensive administrative data sets for research.

This data release also contributes to the need for greater data related to arts, culture, and informal learning initiatives across the United States. Data related to these sectors are woefully lacking when compared to available data on STEM and formal education initiatives, as discussed in a recent Cultural Data Project report. The IMLS administrative data release provides another layer of information to help fill this gap. More data on arts and culture programs helps with planning, policy research, and building a more robust conversation about the social impact of these programs.